Putting People First – Best Practices for Creating People First Culture

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Office people standing in front of the office

Portrait of successful businesspeople standing in front of an office building


“The purpose of all business is to create and keep a customer.” Is one of the most recognizable quotes from Peter Drucker.

He said this a few decades back, but the message endures today and will continue until there are businesses, or should we say, till there are customers ready to pay for a specific need.

It is a simple enough message for anyone running a business. But surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly), most organizations/businesses/enterprises picked up and focused on the first part of the message – “get a customer.” Keep the customer element got lost.

And that is the root cause for the sustained struggle of growth for most organizations.

While customers can be acquired through glitzy marketing campaigns, offers difficult to refuse, pricing, lofty promises. Keeping the customers’ needs more sustained efforts to meet commitments made to the customers by the marketing campaigns.

Peter Drucker also said something about the way to keep customers:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast!”

That then is the focus of this piece.

Keeping customers and making them loyal advocates require an authentic drive by the leadership to build a customer-centric culture. A culture that supports the customer in the front and at the center of its decisions and actions.

Since decisions and actions are human processes, they must be driven by behaviors at all levels of the organization – through the organization’s people. Therefore, it stands to logic that unless those people are immersed into understanding what makes the customer stay, they are unlikely to display those behaviors.

People of the organization need to feel what the organization wants the customers to feel.

It is fundamental: “External service quality is rarely better than internal service quality”.

Internal Customer Focus- Putting People First

Therefore, one of the key characteristics of companies with a customer-centric culture is that they have strong internal customer service levels. If customer-facing staff get good internal service quality, they can deliver a good quality of external assistance. Similarly, managers in the organization need to provide a strong level of service to their employees so that they can provide a strong and positive level of service to the frontline staff.

The above sums up the principle of putting people first, and that is that you put people first, and then they will put customers first. Putting people first is an organizational culture in which everyone in the organization is focusing on delivering good levels of internal service so that the organization can shine externally.

So how does one go about creating this putting person first culture? Here are some advice basis best practices of several organizations:

Build internal relationships: It is very critical that to put people first, the organization invests in helping individuals develop strong relationships internally. Having strong connections between individuals and functions help the organization to meet customer expectations in a fast manner. This is entirely contingent on the absolute top leadership not working in silos, creating relationships and processes that respect the interdependencies.


Create a clear line of sight to customers: It is also essential that everyone in the organization has a clear sight of external customers and know how their role impacts the external customer. To develop this clear line of sight, each function must know who their internal customers are and are mapping internal customer expectations on an ongoing basis. Specifically, it is very critical that the corporate functions start treating all other internal functions as customers.


Build a service mindset: Putting people first culture requires everyone in the organization to have a service mindset. A mindset that is obsessed with meeting exceeding customer expectations. Embedding this service mindset is one of the critical challenges for the managers in the organization. It is also essential that the organization hires people explicitly with a strong service mindset and service mentality. 


Busting organization silos: Lack of internal collaboration is one of the key barriers that most organizations face to deliver high levels of service. Organizations who have developed the putting people first culture have been successfully investing in organization busting organization silos to create value for the customer. To make this happen,  it is important that the organization, specifically its leadership team, looks at the role of enterprise leaders, not functional leaders. This also requires the organization to be on the lookout for collaborative individuals; these individuals represent valuable human capital for the organization. Giving these collaborative individuals the right platform to break organization silos, lead cross-functional projects and drive innovation helps the organization to unleash its potential.


Measure Internal Customer Satisfaction: Creating a strong internal service culture requires a good and consistent way of measuring internal customer satisfaction. When support functions proactively seek feedback from customer interfacing functions, they display role model behavior. Internal customer satisfaction also needs to be reviewed as frequently as you measure customer satisfaction. Best practice suggests that organizations need to measure this once a month. 


Create a positive environment: Internal service roles (especially in functions like operations) are incredibly demanding. Not only are incumbents supposed to solve many transactions, but they are also involved in doing repetitive work. This impacts the motivation of the individual. People who don’t feel good about their work cannot give good service (sustainably). Therefore, leaders of such organizations must spend the required time and energy to create a positive and energetic environment.             



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